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Blood Meridian: or, The Evening Redness in the West by Cormac McCarthy

Updated: Nov 30, 2022

This week I finished reading Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy, which follows “the kid” as he journeys West from Tennessee in the 1840s and eventually joins the notorious Glanton Gang of scalp hunters, engaged to protect the contested border settlements of Mexico. It’s violent content is well documented and discussed, mainly on literary sites and cultural discussion threads as you might expect. I won’t go into gory details. But I found myself gripped on this second attempt at getting through its pages. I find when I feel deeply involved with a text I need to find out more, learn what others think about what’s going on; I notice my path to having picked up this particular book and being so enthralled at this particular time, I want to know more about the author, I want to read around the book, to understand more of that the author is saying about the world as understood through literary association, to discuss it with others.

I first attempted to read Blood Meridian a few years ago and had to set it aside just a few pages in. The idea that people behave in this way was stomach churning to me. I picked it up again a couple of weeks ago when I felt in a difficult place. My work is not going as well as I had hoped around a year ago. The wider world has felt more chaotic and frightening for the last three years than I can remember being aware of in younger years. It has felt like a particularly dark year, physically – we seemed to have a very late arriving, short and intense summer and it’s certainly been a very wet, grey autumn with few days of clear, crisp skies and no late burst of sunshine and heat which have characterised the last couple of years. And there are other, even more personal things which have left me feeling emotionally dark. My important self-care ‘things’ are in place but so much has felt like patching over, trying to make me feel better without getting to the meaning or substance of what’s felt ‘wrong’. Now we are in November and the external conditions where I live are more in synch with how I’ve been feeling. And the violence and darkest corners of human nature in Blood Meridian have still disturbed me, shaken me, haunted my dreams and forced me to close the book, reconnect with my breathing and yet return to it. The landscapes and destruction-as-creation depicted in the novel allowed me to acknowledge some of what I have known as a truth, which I haven’t always been able to face and felt all the more disturbed by for ignoring.

As the similarly bleak The Road (1996) looks to some of our worst fears about the future, a future set in our still-recognisable world following some apocalyptic event, Blood Meridian depicts some of my worst fears and imaginings about a particular period of the past, in a particular place. While much of McCarthy’s writing is placed within the ‘Western’ tradition, I found this a similarly compelling and strangely beautiful novel, with big ideas and many widely recognised and celebrated allusions to classic literature, hugely affecting in its lack of emotional interiority. The very ideas it portrays and the questions it poses concern our world, human nature and our interconnectedness.

These timeless themes have urged me open up my online book group to adults who would like to engage with texts which are thought – and feeling – provoking.

The westwords Thoughtful Book Group will meet for the first time on Sunday 22nd January at 2pm for 2 hours. Please email me at for further details. I look forward to connecting.

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